Bauman: How Frank Vogel, a Rick Pitino disciple, became Pacers head coach

NEW YORK — How did Frank Vogel get his start in coaching?Vogel playoffs knicks_opt

“That’s a long story you’re getting into there,” I was warned as I asked Vogel that question at the Pacers’ shootaround on Tuesday morning at MSG.

Indeed, it is.

Vogel, who finished a distant fifth in voting for Coach of the Year honors, isn’t a former NBA player.

He is, however, a former Division III, pre-med varsity point guard with a 2.6 GPA (“That was not going to get me into med school,” he told the Indiana Business Journal) who realized as a junior in college that his future didn’t belong in scrubs so much as it did in sneakers and shorts.

Hard work, passion and unwavering commitment, combined with serendipity, can be just enough – more than enough – to help someone reach their dreams.

“He loves teaching the game,” Vogel’s mother said in January of 2012 an interview with the Press of Atlantic City. “He’s doing what he loves to do. He whistles on his way to work.”

“He’s always been in the right place at the right time,” said Vogel’s father. “He’s like Forrest Gump.”

Since taking over for one of his mentors, former Pacers coach Jim O’Brien, 44 games into the season in 2010, Vogel hasn’t taken a day for granted.

In his third season as a head coach in the NBA, Vogel has compiled a record of 122-85 (.589 winning percentage) in 207 games, including the playoffs.

Still, many fans of the game don’t know very much about coach Vogel.

Below are four things you should know about him and why the Indiana Pacers hit the jackpot when they gave him the chance to steer the ship despite being a young assistant.

Starting Off

During his junior year at Juniata College in central Pennsylvania, Vogel began to think: Should he sacrifice being the man on campus to graduate at another university while working as a student manager?

“I was captain of the team and I would’ve been big man on campus,” he explained. “I gave up my senior year playing, which was a big sacrifice for something that I didn’t have as a guarantee.”

Even though there were no guarantees – “I had no contacts in Division I basketball, whatsoever,” he explained – Vogel had already made up his mind that he wanted to pursue a career in coaching. Ever the worker, Vogel was enamored with the way Rick Pitino took the helm and wanted to win immediately.

“I was a big fan of Rick Pitino’s approach and I wanted to try to talk my way or persuade my way into an opportunity,” said Vogel. “I enrolled, got admitted and when I met Rick at Five Star basketball camp I had been writing letters to an equipment manager about trying to be a student manager and I was getting a lot of ‘No’s,’ and I was getting a lot of ‘No’s,’ in letters from the coaching staff. Rick told me to keep talking to the equipment manager and see if you can make something happen. If you can’t and you end up coming down, come see us and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

With classes starting in late August, Vogel found himself in Lexington, KY.

“I didn’t know it was gonna work out until a month after I was down there,” he said. “It was like, ‘Oh, let us know, but we probably don’t have anything for you,’ and I went anyway hoping and determined to try to make something happen.”

“It was a big gamble,” admitted Vogel.

The move turned about to be wise beyond his years.

“My college coach was a part-time coach,” explained Vogel. “He worked during the day as a teacher and coached basketball in his spare time. I wanted to get into coaching and I wanted to do it full time. I felt like if I stayed at Division III I would’ve been an assistant, a part-time guy where I would’ve had to work during the day at a full time job. I tried to avoid that. I wanted basketball to be my full passion and to do that I had to get into Division I basketball.”

Boy, did he ever…

What’d he learn from Pitino?

After up-and-moving to Lexington, you can bet your ass that Vogel wasn’t just along for the ride.

Vogel began to build up his basketball acumen by soaking up Rick Pitino’s wisdom.


  1. Jack Huntis says

    Nice! I like reading articles on how coaches get started and how they get influenced and make their way into the NBA.


  1. […] and steals. Then there is Frank Vogel of the Pacers who, while not much of a player at Kentucky, learned to coach under Rick Pitino while also playing some point. David Joerger was a backcourt player before he made his name […]

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